Who are we?

Why are we called the 'Hotham History Project'?

Hotham was the name of the suburb now known as North Melbourne for much of the nineteenth century.

The Hotham History Project is a group of North and West Melbourne residents and friends who are writing, illustrating and publishing about the history of North and West Melbourne. There are many ways that people can become involved and our aim is to make the compiling of this history a pleasure for all. We are looking for people who can write, research, interview, transcribe, illustrate, edit, type, desktop publish, organise, publicise and raise money.

Chair:   Lorna Hannan
Deputy Chair:   Rae Nicholls
Secretary:   Stephen Hatcher
Treasurer:   Sue Scarfe

Hotham History Project Inc
ABN: 89 919 256 977

C/o North Melbourne Library
66 Errol Street
North Melbourne 3051

A Brief History of Hotham

Hotham occupied land originally owned by the Wurundjeri (or Woiworung) tribe. Consisting of seven clans, the Wurundjeri tribal territory stretched from Port Phillip Bay west to Daylesford and Broadford and east to Jamieson and Moe. Smallpox epidemics are estimated to have halved their 1788 population by 1835, the disease having spread to the region by 1803. They called the area now occupied by Royal Park and Parkville Doutta Galla and had camps there as late as 1843. Few physical traces of their presence remain around North Melbourne.

Melbourne itself had been informally established in 1835 and recognised by the colonial government of New South Wales the following year. A town reserve of three miles by one mile was laid out, to which North Melbourne was added in 1840. According to Melbourne's Surveyor Robert Hoddle, North Melbourne in 1841 was 'a collection of buildings erected without any definite plan upon suburban allotments'. In as far as the suburb existed in the 1840s, it was an accidental scattering of buildings over the northern edge of the city grid. Its residents would have seen the bonfires lit on Flagstaff Hill to celebrate the secession of the colony of Victoria from New South Wales in 1850. In that year construction of a Benevolent Asylum began in bushland at the western end of Victoria Street, its massive edifice becoming the suburb's dominant landmark of the 19th century. A gold rush immigrant Albert Mattingley, still wrote in 1852 of the suburb's 'beautiful park-like appearance', it being 'richly carpeted with grass and noble red gum trees, where Aboriginal tribes still occasionally camped'.

In the early years the suburb was referred to as North Melbourne, but was renamed after the second Victorian Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, when the municipality of Hotham was declared in 1859. John Davis was elected mayor of the first council in that year. In 1862 there were 1500 ratepayers, contributing to a total revenue of £2400. It became Borough of Hotham in 1863, then the town of Hotham. Land subdivision moved progressively in a north-west direction, the subdivided areas soon covered with tents, cheap housing, stables, corrugated iron sheds and hotels. There were 1740 dwellings in the suburb by 1861. The Melbourne Gas Company had installed pipes in North Melbourne by 1859, with connection to the Yan Yean water supply occurring in the mid-1860s. The trees were cleared, the swamps were filled and a cover of buildings ensued.

By the 1870s, Hotham's fortunes were rising. Civic ambition was conspicuous in the grand new Town Hall on the corner of Errol and Queensberry Streets, which was finished in 1876. A competition was won by architect George Raymond Johnson, with a design which included a court house, post office and a five-storey clock tower at the corner. The commercial strip along Errol Street was like the self contained main street of a country town, only a mile from Melbourne's GPO. The most substantial landmark was the Benevolent Asylum, a massive neo-Gothic edifice set amongst spacious gardens at the western end of Victoria Street. Surrounding it was housing stock which varied greatly in quality, more working than middle-class. There were streets of comfortable detached villas and ornate terraces, but larger numbers of workmen's shabby timber cottages. There were no underground sewers, with backyard privies serviced by contractors from back lanes. In addition to innumerable small workshops, there was a lot of heavy industry; there were ironworks and other large factories producing agricultural implements, boots and clothing.

Hotham was proclaimed a town in 1874 and its name changed to North Melbourne on 26 August, 1887. On 30 October, 1905 the town of North Melbourne was amalgamated with the City of Melbourne.